Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Lessons from Pre-Industrial Japan

In early 2001 I happened upon an intriguing book at the Kinokuniya Book Store in San Francisco’s Japantown called, The Japanese Dream Home, by Azby Brown. Published that same year, it contained a fascinating history of Japanese architecture and provided an early basis for my better understanding Japanese design and aesthetics. This closely-read book remains on my book case, sitting next to another amazing book Azby wrote years later, titled Just Enough. The latter is a beautifully written and illustrated (by the author) book that provides scholarly (but highly readable) and valuable substantiation for many of the themes of this blog, and as such, appears at the top of my list under the above Inspiration menu.

Eleven years later I happened to meet Azby when Helena Norberg-Hodge invited him to present at the March 2012 Economics of Happiness conference in Berkeley. When I mentioned to him about my enjoying his first book, his jaw dropped and he said I was perhaps the only person he’d ever met who had read it! Little did he know that it has often been trotted out over the years to show house guests about my love for Japanese design.

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Could Japan Return to an Edo Period Lifestyle by 2050?

Once again, UN University’s Our World 2.0 web magazine has published an outstanding essay well worth re-posting. The Future of Food in Japan, authored by the site’s editors in their usual clear-eyed fashion, touches on a host of daunting issues and challenges facing the country’s food self-sufficiency, energy security, and lifestyle in coming decades.

The writer’s compelling analysis aside, the links alone make the piece worthwhile (see, for example, Antony Boys’ pioneering and thorough analysis of the relationship between agricultural productivity and energy scarcity written in 2000 – a paper that long ago helped shape this blog’s theses).

But what is especially interesting – vis-á-vis Satoyama Spirit’s notion of Japan’s eventual return to a resilient lifestyle based on harmony with nature – are the as-yet-unread-by-me views of Eisuke Ishikawa, a prominent author who writes about the Edo Period. The Our World 2.0 article says:

Under present trends, the food supply problem will evolve and significant difficulties will emerge. Boys himself refers to the work of Eisuke Ishikawa, a writer on the Edo Period economy, who talks about the state of Japan in 2050 (“2050 is the Edo Period”, Kodansha, 1998) and essentially describes something like a “slow crash” — dwindling imports, falling exports, economic and population decline. (While there is no English translation of this book, you can read similar works by Ishikawa on the Japan for Sustainability website.)

Ishikawa’s work (at least those translated into English, care of JFS’s above link) are undoubtedly on my short-list of anticipated readings. Hopefully, they will provide the impetus for a future post (or posts!).



Ecosystem Services as a Concept is Gaining Currency

In what is undoubtedly a positive development for the natural world, the concept of “ecosystem services” is poised to go mainstream. This is a good thing because the concept is based upon the idea that our status quo economic models do not properly recognize the value of so-called externalities and fail to take into account the “services” that complex and biodiverse ecological systems provide to humanity. Seeing the world through such expansive eyes – through the wide-angle lens of ecosystems – is a refreshing, and promising, departure from the conventional narrow economic mindset. As such, one might say (pun intended) that the concept is, er, “gaining currency.”

For all of its promise, however, I would argue that its worth is really as a “bridge concept” – an advance to be sure – but nonetheless just a stepping stone on our longer path toward a greater awareness of our proper relationship to Nature. To arrive where we really need to go we must expand our awareness in ways that are not easy for those of us embedded in the modern world. Toward that end, I am offering the following (lengthy) email dialogue in the hope that it might contribute to progress on our individual and collective journeys. Continue reading

A nuke-free Japan in the near term?

Given the inherently un-sustainable nature of nuclear power generation – to say nothing of its profound lack of resilience – I have no doubt that the future of Japan, and indeed the world, will ultimately be nuclear free, perhaps within mere decades (albeit with residual nuclear contamination persisting for tens of thousands of years, well into the “Long Now”).

But what I hadn’t anticipated until recently is the possibility of Japan shutting down all of its nuclear reactors within months. Yet it is a real possibility, and if it does happen it will propel Japan far ahead of other industrialized countries in transitioning to a more harmonious relationship with nature. Continue reading

Coexisting with Nature: Reflections after the Devastating 2011 Earthquake in Japan

In the three months since Japan’s major earthquake in March, many evocative articles and inspiring anecdotes have been published that, taken together, could well represent the early contours of a new, emerging paradigm of remembrance of our fundamental and inextricable oneness with nature and each other.

When I began musing about the revitalization of satoyama culture it was not at all clear how we might get “from here to there”, given the inertia and entrenchment of our current paradigm of separation, but if there is any silver lining to be discerned from the horrible dislocations of Japan’s still-unfolding tragedy, perhaps it is that the Japanese people are not letting this crisis go to waste in terms of using it as an opportunity for reflection. Many observers are recognizing that Japan is undergoing a profound transformation – starting even before the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster tore its societal fabric – and now the potential for real change across seemingly disparate sectors is being revealed in increasingly practical terms. Continue reading

Japan should look to satoyama and satoumi for inspiration – A new article on Our World 2.0

This morning Our World 2.0 posted an outstanding new article entitled, “Japan should look to satoyama and satoumi for inspiration“.

It is exciting and gratifying to see the concepts of satoyama and satoumi being highlighted for their potential to provide a sustainable, resilient, long-term basis for a rich and dynamic culture and thriving relationship with the natural world – not only for Japan’s rebuilding strategy but also for the world.

Japan is uniquely positioned to act as a “proof of concept” for other developed countries in finding ways to remember and draw into the present long forgotten ways of living in harmony with nature – and in the process reconnecting with those tangible and intangible qualities of interconnectedness that provide true meaning to our lives and nourish our parched spirits. Continue reading

Further signs of change in Japan: Portent or promise?

Inspired by the quickening pace of change occurring in Japan and around the world, a few weeks ago I began drafting a blog post tentatively titled, “Japan as Number One, Again?” in which I argue (as I have in previous posts – for example, here) why I believe that Japan is poised to once again become a world leader, not in conventional economic terms of course, but in something more elusive and subtle, but ultimately more important.

However, events and other articles have overtaken my relaxed timeline for completing my draft post and I want to share some of these recent developments right away. But first, here is a preview of my draft to provide context for what follows: Continue reading

From Ecosystem Services to Gift Culture: An Overdue Change in Perspective

What if we changed our relationship with the natural world from one of taking what we can to one of reciprocity and mutual giving?

The International Satoyama Initiative formally launched at this week’s COP10 Biodiversity Conference in Nagoya, Japan, provides an important boost to preserving traditional forest and farmland (“satoyama”), and seaside (“satoumi”) ecological production landscapes around the world and restoring a balanced and sustainable harmony between humans and the natural environment.

But is the proposed cure for satoyama’s current degenerative state – assigning such biodiverse landscapes value in direct proportion to their “ecosystem services” provided to humans – adequate to the task? Or does viewing nature in such a calculated way – and justifying its preservation for the “services” provided – simply perpetuate obsolete, if widely-held, myths of human separation from nature and nature existing for our benefit? Continue reading

UNEP says “Satoyama may prove to be one of Japan’s most important exports”

Addressing yesterday’s opening of the biodiversity summit in Nagoya, the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, Achim Steiner, the United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), noted something very significant and, I believe, right on target:

Japan’s ancient culture and legendary technological innovation has given the world many things. But perhaps in many ways Satoyama may prove to be among the most important exports of Japan to a world still searching for sustainability.

On a related note, OurWorld 2.0, a profoundly important webzine, just posted a selection of their short films about satoyama and biodiversity, each one exquisitely produced by the United Nations University. This selection was featured at a film festival associated with the COP10 conference in Nagoya on October 17, 2010. Do check out these “Stories from a Biodiverse World“!

Ecosystem Services – A transitional concept?

One of my favorite webzines, Our World 2.0, recently posted an article exploring the merits of developed countries paying developing countries to protect their so-called “ecosystem services.”

The concept of ecosystems providing a valuable service to humanity, and thus being worthy of protection, is a key proposition in the Satoyama Initiative’s quest to protect biodiversity. My feeling is that justifying the preservation of nature because it provides a service we recognize as valuable is adequate as far as it goes, but it’s nonetheless an old paradigm response. I’m re-posting my comment here: Continue reading

Finding simplicity on the other side of complexity

Oliver Wendall Holmes quipped, “I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I’d give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

What does this have to do with satoyama? It speaks directly to the nature of the change we’re facing as a humanity. And it suggests the value proposition offered by a satoyama socio-ecological production landscape. As we approach the limits of industrial society, constrained by the earth’s finite natural resource endowments, we are being pushed, and pulled, past our current way of thinking that falsely assumes many things, including the possibility of endless growth, the promise of endless technological progress, and that we are somehow separate from nature itself.

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Japan’s strength, and future, is rooted in their ancient connection to nature

In last Sunday’s Japan Times article, To realize its cultural potential, Japan must celebrate its strengths, Kyoto-resident Roger Pulvers hits a positive chord when he asserts that Japan must celebrate its strengths, but says that they’ve already missed the opportunity to capitalize on manga, anime, sushi and karaoke. (See my published letter to the editor here.) Continue reading

For the “ama” free divers of Japan, the sacred feminine remains central

The outstanding webzine Our World 2.0 recently posted a remarkable article and video about the “ama” free divers of Hegura Island off the Noto Peninsula in the Japan Sea. For centuries these divers, all women, have been collecting abalone and other sea life using nothing but loin clothes, only adopting wet suits in 1964. Continue reading

A subtle but profound shift appears to be taking place in the Japanese psyche

This weekend I was very pleased to read Japan For Sustainability’s April newsletter article, Good-Bye ‘Ownership,’ ‘Materialism,’ and ‘Monetization” in Lifestyles:
A New Era Dawning in Japan
, as it is a timely reflection of what I feel to be a very important, and hopeful, trend occurring in Japan, and later, the world. Continue reading